The guiding hand: Many businesswomen credit a mentor for their success

NEW YORK — As a business owner, being your own boss certainly has its perks. For women, it can be especially empowering. That may be why a third of female small business owners say they were motivated to start their own businesses to inspire other women.

That’s according to a new survey of 1,013 female small business owners. Researchers note that 508 women who took part in the survey were of color, while 505 were white.

Mentor power: Women inspiring women

One in three (36%) respondents currently have a female mentor or role model in the business world. That’s particularly the case for women of color, who are much more likely to have a mentor than their white counterparts. (42% vs. 29%). Three out of four mentored respondents (75%) credited that mentor with the success of their business.

Women of color also expressed a stronger interest in “inspiring other women” with their business (39% vs. 26%). In fact, 82 percent want their success to show others that it’s possible to overcome stigmas.

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Office Depot, the survey also asked women about the challenges they faced when opening their businesses. Overall, respondents cite lacking funds (47%) and trying to maintain a work-life balance (38%) as the toughest hurdles to overcome.

female mentors

Eighty-four percent add they’ve wanted to start their business as long as they could remember, with 80 percent launching their venture based on a hobby or activity they were already passionate about. Six in 10 even worked a day job so they could save up enough money to open their business, including more women of color (71% vs 51%). Of the 417 respondents who started their business in the past two years, 61 percent say the pandemic played a big factor in their decision.

“The growing number of women who have turned their passion projects into successful small businesses is incredible,” says Zoë Maloney, executive vice president and chief human resources officer for The ODP Corporation, in a statement. “Seeing female entrepreneurs come together to empower and mentor one another while developing the next generation of powerful female leaders is so inspiring and impactful.”

Entrepreneurial setbacks for women

Out of 500 female small business owners of color, more than half also said there weren’t enough resources available to them along their journey in opening their own business (53%).

Four in 10 believe some of the difficulties they faced were related to discrimination or bias against someone’s race or ethnicity. Similarly, 42 percent believe they were also denied opportunities that would have helped their business.

For all respondents, other unanticipated financial challenges included high start-up costs (58%) and equipment or maintenance fees (39%). Respondents say that helpful assets like cash grants (38%) or marketing materials (29%) would have helped get their business off the ground.

“The power and influence of the female entrepreneur has never been greater,” says Maloney.

Still, nearly three-quarters of all respondents feel that it’s easier for a woman to become a successful business owner today than 10 years ago (73%). Moreover, most believe owning their business has been an overall positive experience (81%), citing being their own boss (66%) and watching their business grow (40%) as the fruits of their labor.

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